I don't know about you, but in my life I seem to recall hearing numerous times that all sorts of information cannot be given to me "for privacy reasons".
Whether it be information about our household digital television account, or my child's ear infection medication, or a text message, say, sent by a Prime Minister to a highly prominent sportsman or blogger, "privacy" is often the reason trotted out for stonewalling.
It now seems as though certain institutions are more than happy to hand over incredibly personal financial information- Dita DeBoni
Sometimes it's legitimate. Goodness knows what might happen if a complete stranger paid my household bills for me, or felt inclined to impersonate me at the chemist.
And do we really need to know that the Prime Minister and prominent All Blacks are in cahoots over the new flag design?
Some might say yes, but I reckon I could have figured that out by the sheer number of photographs we're subjected to day after day featuring them gazing adoringly into each other's eyes.
It seems the main reason a journalist – or even a citizen – is denied 'official' information much of the time is either that releasing it is going to unleash a torrent of (metaphorical) excrement, or getting the information you’re after would be a pain in the posterior for the person being asked for it.
The exception to this is if the police are asking.
It now seems as though certain institutions are more than happy to hand over incredibly personal financial and other information if the plod request it, even if they've skipped the part where they're supposed to get the proper legal documentation to do so.
Some institutions actually wait for a formal, legitimate request before complying with police fishing expeditions.
Others, notably Westpac Bank, do not.
We know this because it emerged this week that Westpac handed over 10 months of data from three of author Nicky Hager’s accounts when police were investigating the hacking of Cameron Slater's blog and social media accounts at the end of 2014, willingly complying with detectives who simply explained it was part of their investigation into ‘criminal offending’.
There is nothing whatsoever to suggest the criminal offending they were investigating was anything to do with Nicky Hager.
You may think Nicky Hager deserved the treatment he's had. You may not agree with him in general.- Dita DeBoni
Hager began the investigation as a 'suspect' but became simply a 'witness'; he is not accused of stealing anything.
He did what good journalists do on a daily basis – was given information on nefarious wrong-doing that he believed the public needed to know. Then he published it.
He's been treated extraordinarily for a witness in such a case – had his house raided for ten hours, had personal files uplifted, been wire-tapped, had his records requested from as many as 20 different companies and sources, and been vilified by the government.
Privacy increasingly seems to be only your right if you are on the 'right' side.- Dita DeBoni
But whether you like Nicky Hager or not, whether you agree with what he set out to do or not, there is something rotten about the way the police acted in the case – and something profoundly out of order about the way Westpac Bank rolled over and gave away Hager's bank records and other personal information on the strength of an unsupported request by police, without even telling their client they were doing so – which is also something they are required to do.
It now emerges Nicky Hager has complained to the Privacy Commissioner about what's happened and also wants a 'full and frank' disclosure from Westpac.
It will be more than anyone else has had. Westpac say they won’t comment on what they do with customer information because it's an 'internal policy'.
Again, you may think Nicky Hager deserved the treatment he's had. You may not agree with him in general.
But remember that whatever treatment’s been handed out to him can be handed out to anyone with the ‘wrong’ connections, the ‘wrong’ information, and the ‘wrong’ intentions.
Privacy increasingly seems to be only your right if you are on the 'right' side.